Amazing Russian Nesting Dolls

Russian nesting dolls (synonyms - nested doll, stacking doll) or matryoshka as it is pronounced in Russian, are probably the most unique and most popular Russian souvenirs. This well-known Russian toy first appeared in Central Russia at the end of the 19th century, when a toy maker in the village outside Moscow crafted a wooden doll containing seven other dolls that were graduated in size and fitted into each other. The nesting doll quickly became recognized as a unique Russian folk art. The stacking babushka dolls are popular today among children and collectors worldwide.

Russian nesting dolls are handmade and the features, look, style and uniqueness of the dolls are limited only by the creativeness of the Russian artisans and masters that create these unique gifts.

Although nesting dolls (matryoshka) are world-famous, it is hard to find books about this phenomena. Therefore, we have compiled a short history of nesting dolls from various sources. We hope that you find the information interesting and fun to read.

The True Beginning of Russian (Matryoshka) Nesting Dolls

The first Russian nesting doll (aka Matryoshka, babushka or stacking doll) was created around 1890 in the workshop 'Children's Education' which was situated in the Abramtsevo estate, near Moscow. The owner of Abramtsevo was Sava Mamontov - an industrialist and a patron of the arts.

Before Sava began creating these dolls in larger quantities, nesting dolls were handmade and traded by Russian monks. Some individuals also claim that Russian soldiers and prisoners that fought in Russian-Japanese war brought this craft with them on their return to Russia. Although the exact history of the very first nesting doll is probably lost in uncertainty, it is widely believed that the original nesting dolls were adapted from an older figurine called the "Fukuruma Doll" - which was a bald old Japanese man who had other figurines of decreasing size nestling inside him. There were 7 figurines in all. There is a legend that the first doll of this type (from Island Honshu, where the Fukuruma Doll was brought from) was made by an unknown Russian monk. Before the Russian Dolls were made the Russian craftsmen were making Easter eggs and apples with the same nesting toy principle.

Throughout Europe and Russia, the last 30 years of the 19th century proved to be a period of great economic and cultural development. Nevertheless, it is doubtful that Sava ever imagined that his small enterprise would become known as the birthplace of Russian nesting dolls.

The Abramtsevo Estate

The fairy-tale church" in Abramtsevo is an architectural fantasy created by world famous Russian artists Viktor Vasnetsov and Vasily Polenov.

The Abramtsevo is an estate located north of Moscow, in the proximity of Khotkovo that later established itself as a center for the “Slavophil” movement and artistic activity in the 19th century.

Originally owned by the writer Sergei Aksakov, other writers and artists — such as Nikolai Gogol — at first came there as his guests. Under Aksakov, visitors to the estate discussed ways of ridding Russian art of Western influences to revive a purely national style. In 1870, eleven years after Aksakov's death, it was purchased by Sava Mamontov, a wealthy industrialist and patron of the arts. Under Mamontov, Russian themes and folk art flourished there. During the 1870s and 1880s, Abramtsevo hosted a colony of artists who sought to recapture the quality and spirit of medieval Russian art in the manner parallel to the Arts and Crafts movement in Great Britain. Several workshops were set up there to produce handmade furniture, ceramic tiles, and silks imbued with traditional Russian imagery and themes.

Working together in a cooperative spirit, the artists Vasily Polenov and Viktor Vasnetsov designed a plain but picturesque church, with murals painted by Polenov, Vasnetsov and his brother, a gilded iconostasis by Ilya Repin and Mikhail Nesterov, and folklore-inspired sculptures by Viktor Hartmann and Mark Antokolsky. Towards the turn of the 20th century, drama and opera on Russian folklore themes (e.g., Rimsky-Korsakov's The Snow Maiden) were produced in Abramtsevo by the likes of Konstantin Stanislavsky, with sets contributed by Vasnetsov, Mikhail Vrubel, and other distinguished artists.

Abramtsevo is now open to the public and tourists can wander along the many paths through the surrounding forest and cross the wooden bridges that served as an inspiration for the artists at the Abramtsevo Colony. They can also visit many of the buildings to see works produced by the artists at the colony, e.g., a wooden bathhouse in the shape of a traditional dwelling of Ancient Russia, designed by Ivan Ropet, and the House on Chicken Legs, a fairy-tale abode of an evil witch, Baba Yaga, designed by Vasnetsov. One building, the main "manor," is said to have been the model for the estate in which Anton Chekhov set The Cherry Orchard.

Why Russian Nesting Dolls are called 'Matryoshka'

Nesting dolls are also called matryoshka because older forms of the Russian language made use of the work Matryona or Matriosha. Language scholars are correct in their analysis of the Russian language and the claim that the word Matryona has a Latin language root "mater" and means "Mother". The word Matryona is also related to the work Matriarch, which refers to female head of a household. Despite the scholarly analysis, the name fit the doll well because the dolls illustrated the growth and size of Russian peasant families, and the importance of the mother in keeping families together. Nesting dolls illustrate this perfectly because no matter how large or small a nesting doll, the dolls are designed to fit inside one another beginning with the smallest doll and ending sometime with dolls of more than 20 - 30 pieces.

As artists became more creative in making nesting dolls, and made dolls showing famous Russian politicians, male historic figures, and images from Russian folk tales, they used the generic name "nesting doll" and this name is now much more common than the original name "Matryoshka".

There are endless varieties of nesting dolls available in Russia today. We have traveled to Russia many times and have hand-picked the finest examples of true authentic art and Russian nesting dolls. has dozens of unique designs available today at the best possible prices. We invite you to visit our exclusive collection today.

Go Back

Read Your Store Reviews is an Upfront Merchant on TheFind. Click for info.
Official PayPal Seal
Additional Options